Saturday, October 13, 2007

What every grad student should know...

New Kid has a good post up concerning someone who was disappointed that their graduate students decided to forgo an R1 career...

While I was leaving a comment, I realized that if I wrote everything I was thinking about it, I'd have a full post about what grad students should know...

Before starting grad school...
  • In the humanities, the job market is terrible. It is quite possible that you'll send out lots of applications and not get any interviews. Because of the seasonal nature of the job market, you'll have to wait a whole year before taking another stab at it. This is after you've finished your dissertation.
  • As New Kid notes, your grad school professors aren't interested in training more teachers. Don't tell them you want to teach.
  • Grad school will make you feel less academically able than when you accidentally got registered for the upper-division bio-chem course... but, this is in your major. They'll use a whole new language and when you get your first paper back, you'll be stunned by the comments and possibly by the grade. Everyone feels like this, even if they don't admit it. If you can't handle it, don't start. Get a real job and enjoy the freedom.
  • If you want to make money, go to law school -- or, anything other than grad school.
During course work...
  • Be kind to your department's administrative assistant(s). They can (and will) take you down more quickly than if you'd dissed a senior faculty member. It will also be more painful and less obvious. They know everyone and can make sure everything you need done won't get done.
  • For the most part, those people you see around you aren't your friends. Be careful who you show weakness to, as telling the wrong person about your struggles could have long-term implications.
  • Try to publish and go to conferences. It will cost you money you don't have -- but, do it anyway.
  • Don't burn any bridges with faculty. If you think you did poorly in someone's class, stop by and let them know that you realize you weren't working up to their expectations. Don't apologize, but rather let them know that you did learn a lot from their course that will be applied elsewhere. The reason being is that you don't know who will go and who will be left when you need a committee.
  • Ask around about who is the "hardest" grader or who gives the most extensive critiques of writing. Take this person's class early in your time as a grad student... and plan to take it again as you'll probably get a B the first time. This person will teach you more valuable skills about writing and research in your discipline than you will learn elsewhere and it will be a good investment of your time. I wish I'd had this advise -- it would have helped me a lot.
  • Take any opportunity you see to learn teaching techniques. They will save you time in the end. Don't tell people you are doing this, but do it.
While you are either ABD or working on comps.....
  • Teaching will take a lot of time. I think everyone going on the market should have a full syllabus developed for every introductory class in your field. For each of those courses, you should collect relevant articles and (if possible) powerpoint slides from relevant courses you've TA'd. This is called getting a head-start on class prep. It is something that is pretty easy when you have all of your files handy, but not nearly as easy when the details are less clear.
  • Think about various kinds of writing samples and put them in a file... the hard copies... paper doesn't get corrupted or crash. This will make applications easier.
  • Get done as soon as possible. Your dissertation will be much slower, and the support for your dissertation less easily come by if you end up with a job as an ABD... especially since most of those jobs will be teaching intensive.
When you are on the job market....
  • There are plenty of posts out there that will tell you that being rejected isn't about you and your abilities... it is about fit. As hard as that may be to accept, believe them.
  • Make sure your written materials reflect the wonder that is you. Your warmth and intelligence should come out in the cover letter, as should the way you fulfill the qualifications specified in the ad. This is crucial -- and it means that you'll have to write the bulk of them from scratch... or, at least you should have small pre-written bits that address the common qualifications and preferred categories.
  • Tailor your application to the kind of institution you are applying to. While the research schools will want to know about your research, those with a high teaching load really aren't all that interested in your publication record. This is what they are talking about when they discuss "fit".. At my CC, someone whose letter and CV lists many publications and discusses a desire to do more won't be happy with us. Why should we even waste interview time on this person when the job won't be one where they'll stay?
  • Apply for all the jobs you are qualified to do. You never know what will end up to be your dream job and what may end up to be a nightmare. You can't know this until you are in the job, or at least in the interview.
  • Before any kind of interview, read the college's website. Know the kinds of classes taught in your department. Figure out what sorts of students they attract. Find out what they say their mission is. Develop a list of standard questions and try to answer them yourself.... and base your interview question(s) on follow-up questions to the initial ones. For my school if you were from out of town, an example of such a question would be "I see that your course descriptions for X, Y and Z mention 'satisfies goal 6', what does that mean?"
  • Try to figure out what the standard teaching load is. On my CC's website, that is pretty clear... if you've taught that load in the past, make sure you say so both in your application and in the interview. If you haven't, make sure you are ready for a question asking you how you plan to handle that load. My first-year teaching I taught 10 sections and 490 students.... with no TA or other grading help. When I do interviews, I want to know how someone proposes to handle that kind of load.
As a new instructor... I only know the teaching intensive point of view here... I've had 5 sections per (or the release time equivalent) every year for many years now...
  • Be kind to your department's administrative assistant(s). They can (and will) take you down more quickly than if you'd dissed a senior faculty member. It will also be more painful and less obvious. They know everyone and can make sure everything you need done won't get done. This is important enough that I put it here as well as above.
  • Students of all levels are often stupid, lazy and not worthy of your time. Get used to it...
  • If you run into a student who is pissed at you, tell your immediate supervisor... don't let them be surprised by the student showing up in their office. Your supervisor should want to defend you, but they'll need time to marshal the defense.
  • Faculty members are often not good with details. Accepting that faculty members are often like your students, only with advanced degrees will save you stress later on.
  • Keep a running list of things you'll want to change next time you do the course. It will keep you form making the same mistakes over again.
  • Name your electronic files in an organized and consistent manner. This will help you find what you need quickly.
  • Plan a reasonable preparation load. Don't change books unless you have to. Don't assign writing due at the same time for every class. Figure out how to have a standard writing assignment so you can grade papers quickly.
  • Don't be part of every project or committee. They will ask, you don't have to say yes. Treasure any release time you may have.
  • Keep track of all the ways you contribute to the college and community. This will help the tenure / future applications file.
  • Do your class prep in chunks. On Thursday, think ahead to the next week or two. Make sure you are happy with your PowerPoints and that you have final versions of handouts or quizzes. This lets you have some time to change things if needed -- and to let someone else make your copies.
  • Figure out how to have blocks of time to do your research. It will keep you sane and it feels good to work for the benefit of your own mind as opposed to working to improve your students' minds.
Above all, the chances are pretty good that you won't have the career you thought you'd have when you started grad school. You'll probably have a good career with a lot of satisfaction and many rewards, it just won't be what you thought. This is because you are an intelligent person who has worth and you are giving back to people who won't appreciate it until later--- but, the important part is the giving, not the appreciation.


Bardiac said...

What a great advice post!

I'd add one thing: for a new faculty member (or a grad student), when you do something for the community (a guest lecture, whatever), ask the head of the organization to write you a short thank you note for your file. Then keep a file of those, so that you can easily demonstrate when you've contributed in ways that might not otherwise get noticed.

Miss Kitty said...

Amen, sister!